Building Blue Control Decks in Unified Modern

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In preparing for Grand Prix San Antonio and the Unified Modern format, I’ve been locked out of playing with certain cards that I’m used to having access to. The rule that “decks can’t share cards” raises interesting restrictions on deckbuilding that, in a cool way, forces you to consider how to build decks differently than their stock versions. You might even have to shift color combinations to accommodate your teammates’ decks,.

For example, Death’s Shadow is the leading archetype going into this tournament, and one that many teams will want to be using in their lineup. Death’s Shadow is greedy in the sense that it needs a lot of different fetchlands and shocklands – but, thankfully, there are many different viable color combinations for a Death’s Shadow deck.

If you have a blue control specialist on your team and also want to field a Death’s Shadow deck, what are your options? I’m working under the assumptions that:

– The viable blue control archetypes are Blue-White, Jeskai, Grixis, and Esper
– The viable Death’s Shadow archetypes are Jund, Grixis, Sultai, Esper, and Abzan
– All of these decks need a fetchland + shockland manabase
– The control decks cannot play Thoughtseize, since the Death’s Shadow deck needs it

What this means is that, as an example, Jund Death’s Shadow and Grixis Control don’t work together because they both need Blood Crypt. With the above restrictions in mind, these are the combinations that work together, from the blue control player’s perspective:

– Jund Death’s Shadow – U/W, Jeskai, Esper Control
– Grixis Death’s Shadow – U/W Control
– Sultai Death’s Shadow – U/W, Jeskai Control
– Esper Death’s Shadow – none
– Abzan Death’s Shadow – Grixis Control

And from the Death’s Shadow player’s perspective:

– U/W Control – Jund, Grixis, Sultai Death’s Shadow – Jeskai Control – Jund, Sultai Death’s Shadow – Grixis Control – Abzan Death’s Shadow – Esper Control – Jund Death’s Shadow

When you dig deeper into some of these team compositions, you realize that some sacrifices need to be made. If your teammate really wants to play Grixis or Sultai Death’s Shadow, you might have to get creative when splitting up the Serum Visions and Thought Scours. A blue control deck can be built without using either of these cantrips, but keep in mind that it makes your Snapcaster Mages a lot worse.

Jund Death’s Shadow lists might have to forego the white splash for sideboard cards such as Ranger of Eos and Lingering Souls, if you have a teammate on Esper Control who needs Godless Shrine.

An Abzan Death’s Shadow player definitely needs Path to Exile, but you could make a Blue-White or Jeskai Control deck work by playing Condemn instead of Path to Exile.

Blue-White Control as your deck of choice will definitely give your team the most flexibility and has basically no overlap with Jund Death’s Shadow, the most popular of the Death’s Shadow decks. Blue-White Control generally plays less copies of Snapcaster Mage than the other blue control variants, so Serum Visions and Thought Scour are not as necessary. If you’re looking for a version of Blue-White Control with maximum team flexibility, here’s a maindeck that I would recommend as a starting point:

Unified Modern Blue-White Control

Condemn has some extra utility in Modern right now because it can be used to shrink or even kill Death’s Shadows. It also makes Mana Leak more attractive since you aren’t casting Path to Exile and giving your opponent extra mana sources. Spreading Seas and Ghost Quarter are an effective way to cripple a Death’s Shadow player’s access to specific colors of mana in a prolonged game, and are also great against Tron. You can always add cards like Path to Exile, Serum Visions, or additional fetchlands to the list to fit your preferences, if not being used by a teammate.

Enough talk about Death’s Shadow – now let’s say that you have a combo specialist on your team who is an expert at Storm, Ad Nauseum, or Amulet Bloom. It is crucial that these decks play Serum Visions to help dig for their combo pieces. The key to making a Snapcaster Mage deck work in harmony with one of these combo decks? Thought Scour.

Thought Scour is worse than Serum Visions at making sure you hit your early land drops or digging for a specific answer. But it has a lot of upside, too. First of all, it’s an instant. While spending a single mana to cast Serum Visions on your turn is often trivial, there will be times when you’ll need to have all of your mana available on your opponent’s turn. Thought Scour gives you that flexibility. The ability to mill yourself also gives you more targets for Snapcaster Mage, fuels delve cards like Logic Knot, and works well with Think Twice.

Here’s an example of a “no Serum Visions” Jeskai Flash list, assuming that I had a teammate who was locked into a deck like Amulet Bloom or Ad Nauseum:

Unified Modern Jeskai Flash

I love how this deck doesn’t have a single spell in the maindeck that can’t be cast at instant-speed, which really facilitates the draw-go gameplan. This is a deck that I would feel comfortable piloting in a tournament, and could end up being better positioned, even though one might consider it a downgraded version of a Jeskai Flash list.

Whether you’re looking to make a blue control deck work with your teammates for Unified Modern or not, thinking about different ways to build decks can be an eye-opening process. As Mark Rosewater says: “Restriction breeds creativity.”

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